One cold November post-tennis season day, my office was very busy. On this particular day, it was a little different, occupied by myself and an outside consultant/recruiting agency that solicits high school athletes in all sports in helping them find an academic location to settle and display their talents in a collegiate atmosphere.
I am in the offseason now, as the Oneonta Women’s Tennis season just wrapped up with a trip to the Conference Finals, taking down the NCAA pre-season poll of a team ranked 19th in the country. Also standing in our way was the seven-time defending Conference Champions SUNY New Paltz, as we beat them once in the regular season and sent them packing early in the playoffs.
This was a proud moment for our school and tennis program. At the end, I took a deep breath to decompress from a long grinding season and had time to chat with the recruiting representative. We shared similar experiences, as he was also finding mostly parents from downstate New York just believing that their child was getting a full-ride to a Division I program in soccer, basketball, football, baseball and tennis. It was an inspirational conversation to say the least. I found out that I was not the only one to find that some families have an entitlement and believe that a Division I scholarship is beckoning and just ready to be given away. I was actually shocked to find out that this recruiter spends so many hours during the week speaking to families and bringing them back to reality. He said to me that the expression he uses is: “Your son and/or daughter is not getting a scholarship to a Division I or II school in soccer, baseball or tennis.” Scholarship money is limited and those incoming collegiate students damn well better be good, I mean really good, before an academic institution will give away free money. If they are so inclined to give free tuition/money away, it will not be for a full ride.
College is for education, and sports are just your way to stand out contrasted to other students. I have often written about this topic, and you can consider this another enlightening moment in providing expectations to parents that are real and truthful. The private teachers who get paid by generous parents to enhance the skills of those aspiring collegiate athletes are doing a great job. I promise that the skills taught and practiced will absolutely resonate and pay a bonus compensating for future success, but maybe not the way you originally intended.
I have pontificated on this all too often as you know if you are keeping up with my articles. Consequently, after a conversation with a professional recruiter, the subject resonated, and I felt validated and vindicated. I have felt exonerated because parents sometimes listen to me and others “know better” than the expert. Maybe coming from me this time, complimenting a professional recruiter’s experiences, will buy some broadmindedness for those looking for a college and athletic experience for their son or daughter. After all, only two percent of high school students will ever get any athletic scholarship money. Consider this as it relates to tennis … only 1.6 percent of high school tennis players play Division I, 1.1 percent play Division II, and 2.3 percent play Division III tennis.
If your comprehension of this commentary seems as though that this writer is annoyed, you would be correct in your assessment. As a college tennis team recruiter, I am also looking for talent for a Division III team, and I am certain that a parent might perceive me as a salesperson enabling their son/daughter to play collegiate tennis at SUNY Oneonta … that would be true. The only problem is that I do not earn a commission, and if a family says no to me, I am on to the next interested player. I am looking to fill spots on a roster for a student who wants to be on my team, bringing such values as sportsmanship, good study habits and teamwork to the table, while getting a solid and reasonably-priced education out of it while playing high-quality D3 tennis.
The NCAA statistics quantify the above sentiments … the decision to play tennis in an academically-balanced ratio to sports assists students to perform athletically at a high level, and can be achieved in a Division III environment. As a parent of two former Division III collegiate tennis players who went on to successful post-collegiate careers, leveraging their athletic experiences was a marketable product to promote on interviews. The hiring managers did not ask about whether or not they played Division I, II or III. The common question/comment was always about their time management skills as it related to sports and academics. That was the skill that potential employers were most interested in, and on several interviews, there was no question about wins or loses. During a recent alumni weekend welcoming back several of my former players, these alumni had the opportunity to speak to my current players. The overwhelming commonality for the alumni was a similar sentiment that athletic skills, while being successful in the classroom and balancing both activities, was the valued skill that employers were most interested in.
I will close this article this way … I was at USTA Showcase, and as a coach, I was interested in a potential female student/athlete. Her mother turned her nose at me as she was sure her daughter would be beating the Division I scholarships away because of all the offers she would get. Yet I watched her play and saw a player I knew could compete at our level, but not even close to the skill level it takes to compete at the D1 level. After the conversation, I knew I had lost the battle, and in the nicest way, I said, “She won’t be playing Division I unless something changes.”
Three weeks after that interaction, there was a denial of Division I scholarships, and none were offered. I realized that I had been too humble for too long and I now must be more vocal about the talent I am qualified to judge. As I mentioned, only 1.1 percent of high school tennis players will ever play D1. If you are in that 1.1 percent bracket, go after it hard, but get ready for a very laborious journey of which education might come secondary. Let your son or daughter get prepared for life beyond the college athletic experience. The skills learned on the tennis court along with great success in the classroom, are what will help you get into grad school and secure that first job.
Post-collegiate success, while attaining academic accolades, is more rewarding than getting to the conference finals. Hard work must always be in full swing on the route to life’s success.
Lonnie Mitchel is head men’s and women’s tennis coach at SUNY Oneonta. Lonnie was named an assistant coach to Team USA for the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel for the Grand Master Tennis Division. Lonnie may be reached by phone at (516) 414-7202 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.